Tag Archives: World Building

Alone in a Dark Place: Building Byzantium for Cinemax’s Hunted

When you complete each stage of the process involved in ByzantiumTests.com, an immersive website experience for Cinemax’s new series Hunted (which debuts tomorrow night at 10/9c) that positions the user as a test subject for diegetic organization Byzantium Security International, it asks you whether you want to share your process with any number of social networks.

When I was completing the tests, however, they struck me as intensely personal. Even though the data being collected is far from the precise scientific personality test that Melissa George suggests in the video material accompanying the site, it nonetheless asks us to reflect on ourselves more than anything else, and I’m not sure that’s something I’d want to share with the world at large. One portion of the site asks you to connect the site to your Facebook account, drawing images from profiles—including your own—to probe further into your thought process. The results of the test are rigged in the sense that everyone can make it to the end, but the personalized nature of the test ensures that it’s evocation of the exclusive “1% that matters” highlights the individual nature of the accomplishment (which is part of why I wasn’t interested in sharing my results).

In the previous two campaigns—for Game of Thrones and Bag of Bones—that I’ve discussed from Campfire, who also developed the Byzantium campaign, the goal has been to engage fans and potential viewers in a shared experience of interpreting and participating in a broader activity. We can see a similar strategy in their campaign for USA’s Political Animals this summer—which I didn’t write about given my busy schedule at the time—wherein the community-forming potential for a newspaper’s audience is used to create immersive weekly experiences that nonetheless allow for different people to experience the same basic content. Whether it’s gathering Maester’s for the cause, or working with others to spot the various secrets in the dark stories being told, or sharing fictional political editorials the same way you’d share real ones, the notion of “shareable” speaks not only to the capacity for the pages to be posted to social media, but also the ability for the “experience” to be shared with others like you.

While the Byzantium campaign relies on word of mouth, which is why a wooden puzzle with a flash drive hidden inside arrived at my doorstep late last month, it also relies on potential viewers finding the time to visit the site, take part in the test, and engage with the world-building on display.

Which describes the experience of watching television, in a way. Continue reading

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A Whole New World: World-Building in Avatar and Scrubs

A Whole New World: World-Building in Avatar and Scrubs

December 20th, 2009

It’s very rare around these parts that I actively engage in any sort of cinematic analysis, but apparently it’s a yearly tradition as twelve months ago I was waxing poetic on the virtues of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and its connection to reality television narrative. And after seeing James Cameron’s Avatar last night, I feel I need to spend at least some amount of time discussing what was a truly fantastic cinematic experience (even if I also end up discussing its connection with television).

I could spend a long time talking about the film’s visual prowess, but as noted on both Twitter and Facebook (which means that, if you’re a Myles McNutt aficionado, you think me mighty repetitive) this was the first movie I saw wearing my new corrective lenses, which meant that it was so stunningly sharp that I think I would have found any movie mind-blowing from a visual perspective.

However, I want to focus on what those visuals are meant to achieve, in particular the film’s efforts to create a “world.” Cameron’s Pandora is full of life in a way that sustains this film, filling in the gaps of the somewhat reductive and straightforward plot by making us anxious less for what will happen next and more for what unseen part of this planet we’re going to see for the first time in the near future.

And it has me thinking about those television series which rely on the same sense of world-building, specifically ABC’s Scrubs, and in particular how Cameron’s film draws attention to the advantages and disadvantages of the audience (or, in the case of the film, its characters) dropping in and out of that world on a regular basis.

[Spoilers for Avatar will be minimal, more particular moments than any sort of plot or character things, but if you want to go in blind turn back now.]

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